Around Lucedale, Mississippi, an unusual mix of partners is working together to restore one of the South’s iconic forests. The Longleaf Alliance (LLA), Wildlife Mississippi, the Mississippi Forestry Association, Enviva, and other partners are working together to restore longleaf pine habitats in southern Mississippi and southwestern Alabama by creating new, regenerative opportunities for public and private landowners in this region.
These efforts will protect and restore longleaf pine forests by implementing Enviva’s longleaf forest restoration plan. This plan works with private landowners to develop a management plan, provide forest certification, harvest undesirable woody plant material, and monitor long-term restoration effects on appropriate sites. By working with Enviva, these landowners are contributing to the overall recovery of this important ecosystem.
“Enviva is proud to help restore longleaf pine forests and to support our partners’ habitat restoration efforts,” said Jennifer Jenkins, Vice President and Chief Sustainability Officer at Enviva. “We look forward to helping restore more and more longleaf forests with appropriate, restoration-oriented sourcing on private as well as public lands around our new plant in Lucedale, Mississippi.”
The longleaf pine (Pinus palustris) was once the dominant tree species in the South, covering over 90 million acres from Virginia to Texas. Over the last 400 years, the abundance of this species was greatly diminished due to non-sustainable timber harvest, clearing of land for agriculture and development, and exclusion of fire.
However, due to the collective hard work of partners throughout the region, longleaf is making a comeback on the landscape. Restoration of the longleaf pine ecosystem and the species associated with it are a high priority of federal and state agencies, non-profit organizations, industry partners, and private landowners across the southeastern United States.
“This level of collaboration and cooperation is important in the overall efforts of longleaf pine restoration,” said Forest Supervisor Carl Petrick with the U.S. Forest Service’s National Forests in Mississippi. “The expanded market capacity increases our ability to carry out management activities that improve overall forest health, including longleaf pine restoration and wildlife habitat improvement for game species and threatened and endangered species, such as the Red-cockaded woodpecker and the gopher tortoise.”
Beyond traditional timber income, properly managed longleaf pine habitats provide numerous benefits to both the ecosystem and the people who enjoy these forested habitats. One of the primary reasons that landowners restore longleaf is to create high-quality wildlife habitat. The longleaf pine ecosystem is well-known for the incredible diversity of plant and animal species that it supports, many of which need this habitat to thrive. By restoring and managing this habitat, landowners and land managers not only provide essential habitat for common species, but potentially also for rare species like the gopher tortoise and the red-cockaded woodpecker.
“Providing landowners with guidance in restoring and managing longleaf pine ecosystems is core to the function of The Longleaf Alliance. It is important to provide them with tools and resources to make these processes efficient so that longleaf acreage increases across the Southeast,” says Carol Denhof, President of LLA.
One such tool is harvesting wood materials for pellets. Enviva, a renewable energy company specializing in wood bioenergy, sources low-grade wood such as tops and limbs, thinnings, and mill residues to make wood pellets. These materials typically would be left behind or burned to make way for the next generation of lumber-grade timber.
Because many existing longleaf forests need thinning, and because millions of acres of former longleaf forests were converted to different forest types, appropriate biomass removals are a critical step in the longleaf restoration process. Enviva’s sourcing can be particularly helpful in creating demand for some types of material, like small-diameter mid-canopy hardwood, which has limited (or no other) markets and needs to be removed to get sunlight back on the ground to re-introduce prescribed fire and improve habitats.
With the opening of Enviva’s Lucedale facility in 2021, a new market will be available to landowners that will provide revenue from previously nonmerchantable materials from their land, and this will be especially helpful on longleaf sites that are being choked by undesirable hardwood species. This arrangement is a win-win for both Enviva and the landowner: Enviva purchases low-grade wood to use in pellet production while assisting with forest restoration, and landowners get to achieve their restoration goals at far lower cost and turn a problem into an opportunity in some situations.
The Longleaf Alliance, based in Andalusia, Alabama—with thirty staff extended across the natural longleaf range–was established in 1995 to promote retention, management, and restoration of longleaf throughout its historic range, serve as a clearinghouse of information on all things longleaf, provide technical assistance to landowners and managers, provide education and training to natural resource professionals, and facilitate partnerships among the numerous public and private interests vital to the future of the longleaf forest. The mission of The Longleaf Alliance is to ensure a sustainable future for the longleaf pine ecosystem through partnerships, landowner assistance and science-based education and outreach.
Photo courtesy of Enviva.